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Monday, 14 December 2009

Christmas Past

Because it is the season to be jolly and because there is an anticipation of good things to come in the air, there can surely be no reason to feel a little sad and tearful? Sitting at my desk, Classic FM providing the sound track, I was as close to tears as it is safe to get at work today. Suddenly I had a feeling of the world changing and reforming and sliding away from the safeness of the past. I felt the urge to capture a picture perfect life and never let it change. I suspect when we indulge in the traditions of the season; when we put up our Christmas tree and order our turkey, send Christmas cards with red breasted robins and listen to Christmas carols on the radio; we are harnessing a Christmas past, clinging on with our finger tips to a better world, nourishing ourselves on the 'milk of human kindness' that flows with abundance at this time of year. When, more than now, are we inclined to wish good wishes for others, or to give generously to those without, or to pity those 'alone' at Christmas? It is a time of family gatherings, a reunion of souls and a period of thankfulness. Any bad thing that happens at Christmas is automatically twice as bad, it is after all the season to be jolly. Misfortune, badness, crimes and wickedness can not be tolerated, not at Christmas. At other times, we shrug off such things and explain it away with the phrase ' thats' life these days'.
The Ghost of Christmas Past haunted Ebenezer Scrooge showing him scenes from his past that occurred on or around Christmas, in an attempt to demonstrate to him the necessity of changing his ways; most of the events which negatively affected Scrooge occurred around the Christmas holiday season. With the media hyping us all up to have a picture perfect Christmas, is it any wonder we all experience a twinge or two of disappointment.

I wonder if Christmas is a time of reflection we humans need to allow us to regather our energies for the year ahead. It is a time to reinforce ourselves with the nourishment of the love given by others, in which ever way it comes: gifts, a good meal, a card in the post. It is a time for remembrance, to look back before we move forward, to feel sorrow, before we experience joy.

Monday, 7 December 2009

Nearly done

Kitchen is nearly complete. Just a few tweaks. I will be able to reclaim my home before Christmas.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Waiting to reclaim my home

We're having work done on our house. So far it has been a nightmare which started in April 2009 and I've just been informed by husband that it will not be completed until sometime in early 2010. I am so frustrated, I could cry. Mostly it is the endless promises that are broken that defeat me. It is the way that my home feels like a workshop or a garage or a pit stop for builders with five minutes to spare. It does not feel like my home, my heart does not sigh with contentment when I open my front door. The feeling is one of anxiety: what mess, or broken ruin thing will I find today? Husband is endlessly stoic and patient, I am not. I am that broken and ruin thing that the builders have created. I started out with so much hope and excitement and now I am the exact opposite. Yes worse things have happened at sea, this is not the end of the just feels like it.

Entertaining in style: how to cheat in the kitchen at Christmas

Christmas in my experience means cooking and baking and cleaning. It is an exhausting time of year if you are the one responsible for everything. Over the years necessity has resulted in some clever shortcuts. It is not necessary to make your own pastry, let alone your own mince pies. Christmas cake? Does anyone eat it except the old man? Buy one, if you simply can’t imagine Christmas without a cake. But don’t even consider wasting the two hours it takes just to assemble the ingredients, it’s not a crime: buy a cake.

Hire a cleaner for the week before Christmas. It may cost you about £60 for a thorough clean but just think of the time and effort saved. The pleasure of having a fresh sparkly clean house to welcome your guests without you being bone tired and disgruntled makes the price as cheap as chips.

In October start stockpiling bottles of wine, brandy and other hard liquor, tins of biscuits, sweets and chocolate, pack your freezer with mince pies (the bought variety darling). If you are really organised make extra meals to freeze, so you have dinners available at your fingertips for those unexpected dinner invitations you issue at random when you are completely inebriated and full of goodwill.

The thing is, if you are a good cook, there is no reason at all to panic about Christmas. But if you can’t cook at all, the recipes that follow are for you; they are easy and quick and won’t send you mad with having to assemble 47 ingredients just for the gravy.

Here is the simplest recipe for Roast Turkey you’ll ever find, basically you just have to sling it in the oven.

Simple Roast Turkey

4 oz butter
2 large onions (chopped in half)
3 or 4 cloves of garlic
1 very large 12 - 13 pound fresh or frozen and thawed turkey
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
Large pack of stuffing (choose your favourite)
6 medium carrots, peeled and cut in two length way
Coarse salt and ground black pepper
Jerk chicken seasoning
White wine (for the pot and the cook)
Plain flour

This recipe should serve 12 not so hungry people but in our family this is sufficient for 6 healthy appetites.

Preparation time: 20 measly minutes.
Gravy cooking time: 6 minutes.
Roasting time: 3 hours. (ish)
Standing time: 15- 30 minutes.

Cooking Instructions

Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Wash your turkey thoroughly in water with a little lemon juice. Pat it dry with a very clean tea towel. Place onions, neck, and heart of turkey in bottom of roasting pan. Make up stuffing as directed on packaging. Add stuffing to front and back cavities of turkey, but do not pack it tightly. Push the butter under skin of turkey along with garlic, massage it in well. Sprinkle turkey with salt, pepper and Jerk Chicken seasoning. Fold wing tips under bird and place turkey breast side up on top of onions. Add carrots around turkey.
Place turkey in oven. You can breathe easy for a while, but periodically check and baste. After 2 hours, add 2 small cups of water (or white wine) to the bottom of the roasting pan.
Roast about 3 hours, or until instant read thermometer in thickest part of thigh registers 170 degrees F. Let rest at least 15 minutes to half an hour before carving. You too should rest, get a glass of wine and sing carols.
At some point you must make gravy. Its simple: Pour liquid from roasting pan into measuring cup. Discard onions, carrots, heart, and neck. Skim off fat from liquid and pour all but 1/4 cup back into roasting pan. For every 1/2 cup of liquid (what's in the pan and what is set aside as the reserved liquid) use 1 tablespoon flour. Stir that total amount of flour into the 1/4 cup of cooled, reserved liquid, and mix together well. Add a glug of white wine and a tiny bit of brandy to the liquid in the roasting pan and place over a medium heat. Slowly add the flour mixture to it, stirring constantly. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook 2 minutes, whisking constantly. Adjust salt and pepper to taste. Add a teaspoon of mustard to spice it up a little.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Utilitarian Simplicity

How to make your own Eco Friendly Householder Cleaner..
There is really no need to use harsh chemicals, fact is with a few basic ingredients you can make your own household soap cleaner. All you need is about 50g of pure soap flakes, 1/2 a cup of soda crystals, the same of white vinegar, a few drops of tea tree oil and lemon essential oils , have ready five litres of cold water and four and a half litres of hot water. It is simple. First you place the soap flakes and two litres of the cold water in a sauce pan and bring to the boil, then add the soda crystals. Stir it until completely dissolved, stir in the essential oils and white vinegar. Pour into a bucket and add the hot water and the remaining cold water. When cool transfer to smaller containers and label. The is basic cleaner is good for soaking heavily soiled items before washing and then add 2 cups to the washing machine per load for fresh clean laundry. Give it a go.

The Gentle Art of Domesticity

I spend a lot of time in my kitchen, cooking, cleaning up after cooking, drinking tea, chatting, reading recipe books, hiding from the rest of the household and having a few moments to myself. It was the first room I designed when we moved into this ram-shackled ‘money pit’ and it was the last room to get finished. A kitchen is a redemptive place, here you can make up for whatever shortcomings you have elsewhere. A bad day at work can be eased by the making of a lovely creamy cheesy pasta dish, which is greeted with joy by your family. This week has been a frantic round of jam and chutney making, the usual attempt to productively use the harvest of vegetables and fruit from the garden. This year our dear little wizen plum tree has gone crazy producing hundreds of sweet plump plums with purple bluish hue. My first instinct is to make jam, but after a few hours standing over a hot stove, I am fed-up of stirring the bubbling cauldron of sticky dark liquid as it spits and burps and splutters. I decided a plum pie would be an easier way to use up some of the surplus. Below is one of the recipes I ended up using this year. Give it a try.

Plum Pie with Almond Pastry

For this beautiful scrumptious pie you need a shallow pie tin and the patience and will to make your own pastry. Dissolve 4 oz or 100g of soft brown sugar in 10 fl oz or 300ml of water in a pan over a low heat. Once the sugar has dissolved add the zest of half a lemon and boil it for 10 minutes. Get 6 –8 nice fat juicy plums and halve and remove the stones then add them to the syrup and leave them to simmer uncovered until tender. This should take about 15 –20 minutes or even quicker if your plums are very ripe. Now for the hard bit, making the almond pastry. Rub 4oz/100g of butter into 10oz/275g flour with a teaspoon of cinnamon until the mixture looks like breadcrumbs. Stir in 4oz/100g of ground almonds and 1oz/25g of icing sugar, mix with one small beaten egg to form a dough. Chill for about 20 minutes. Heat the oven for to gas mark 5/190C/375F. Cut the chilled pastry in half and roll out one piece to line a shallow pie tin (about 8 -10 inches or 20–23 cms). Make sure you grease the tin thoroughly first. Spread the plums over the base along with 3 or 4 tablespoons of the syrup. Make the lid by rolling out the other half of the pastry. Place over the top of the plums, seal edges and make a hole in the centre for the steam to escape. Bake for 30 minutes possibly 40, at any rate until the pastry is firm and has a lovely golden colour. Serve with ice-cream or cream or proper home made custard.

Make do and Mend

I have long admired the make do and mend approach of my parents. Back in the olden days being thrifty was not exactly a choice, it was a necessity. However being thrifty and making every penny work twice resulted in some inspiring and imaginative approaches to decorating, cooking and gardening. Our family home was a Heath Robinson affair with quirky interiors, cobbled together decor and a wealth of things masquerading as something different in their new recycled life. For instance, a pretty flowery skirt I wore as a six year old became a frilly lamp shade cover by the time I was eight. Nothing went to waste back then.

I guess we've come full circle and now we are recycling those old attitudes and ethos of our grandparents and parents in the 50's, 60's and 70's, although now we have different reasons; making do and mending, recycling and salvaging, reclaiming and reusing have become the new mantra for the 21st century too. Mostly it is environment led rather than poverty driven but what ever the impetus I am happy to embrace the return to sensible re-using of stuff that previously went straight to a landfill. There is no greater excitement I think than getting out your sewing box and turning an old tablecloth into cushion covers, or sitting at the kitchen table with the children and hand making birthday cards out of a collection of pretty buttons, fabric, paper and lace.